By Pip Wilson, co-founder lawyer-free digital divorce service, amicable

Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, when talking about female led businesses, said, “One day there won’t be female leaders. There will just be leaders.”

While it’s inspiring to see Sandberg leading one of the biggest technology companies in the world, the gender gap between men and women in the tech sector remains enormous. As someone who has worked in the tech industry for 20 years, I’ve seen first-hand how a lack of equality in the sector can inhibit innovation. I’m concerned the current coronavirus pandemic is creating stronger barriers to entry into the tech sector for women.

Education, education, education

Women growing up in the UK often believe STEM subjects and careers are not suitable for them. These societal norms have created a culture which has led to low numbers of women entering the tech sector. Only 30% of young women going to university picked STEM subjects, compared to 52% of men, and just 3% of women said a career in technology is their first choice compared with 15% of men.

These societal issues remain – many young girls in school believe tech-based subjects are only for boys. Government research in 2019 found that only 33% of 15 year old girls considered themselves to be the best at a STEM subject compared with 60% of boys. These views may have increased over the past six months – with schools closed due to the pandemic many young girls may believe it’s too difficult to catch up in the STEM subjects, leading to an increase in negative attitudes towards these subjects.

We need to challenge the misconceptions and encourage girls to pursue their interests in STEM subjects from an early age to foster the next generation of talent. Visibility of female role models, both in the corporate world and in an education setting, could help bust myths about women’s suitability for tech subjects, while the implementation of female-focussed STEM programmes at all levels of education could encourage girls to get involved – and excel – in these subjects. Universities should consider incentivising applications for females into STEM-based subjects.

Job opportunities 

After encouraging young girls to follow their interests in tech subjects, we need to ensure the job opportunities are available for them once they leave school.

The pandemic negatively impacted employment rates in the UK, prompting established tech businesses such as IBM and Uber to reduce head count. Unfortunately, women have been disproportionately affected by these cuts. A study by Trust Radius found that women working in the tech sector were 1.6 times more likely to lose their job than men. This only further entrenches the gender gap in the industry.

Positioning successful careers in tech as achievable for women is an important piece of the puzzle. Women could be put off from applying for roles if the industry is perceived as too male-dominated, so it’s important female role models are visible for others interested in following in their footsteps.

The value in a diverse workforce with strong representation from women is clear: tech businesses with greater gender diversity outperform less diverse companies by up to 15%. Companies must open their doors to female candidates and actively create opportunities for young women to enter the sector.

Funding gap 

In 2019, less than 1p in every £1 of VC funding in the UK went to female founded businesses. As someone who has received funding for my tech business, amicable, and funded other businesses, I’ve seen how this funding gap exacerbates gender inequality and suppresses innovation.

If the funding gap widens due to the pandemic, this could lead to even fewer opportunities for young women in the tech sector. Research has shown that start-ups with at least one female founder hire 2.5 times more women but if these businesses receive less funding, this could flow on to fewer employment opportunities in their organisations, and therefore less women in the sector.

Venture capitalists need to take a leap of faith and invest in innovative and exciting female-led tech businesses. When reviewing his business investments, US investor Kevin O’Leary found 95% of the women-led businesses he invested in hit their targets, compared to just 65% of the businesses led by men. Investment in women-led tech businesses is valuable, not only in achieving return on investment, but it helps close the funding gap while also creating employment opportunities for women in the sector.

The pandemic mustn’t be the catalyst for reduced female representation in the tech sector. The education system must work to break down the societal barriers that stop young girls believing they can succeed in the industry, while tech businesses of all sizes must maintain job opportunities for women, supported by considered investment in female led start-ups. These measures will help ensure the industry does not take backwards steps in gender equality.

Pip WilsonAbout the author

Pip Wilson is a successful tech entrepreneur, director, angel investor and start up mentor. Pip is currently co-founder and CEO of amicable, a lawyer-free online divorce service that has helped thousands of couples ‘untie the knot’ without the acrimony or expense.

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